Potter Place – First Outdoor Radio 2018

potter place

Potter Place station. The railroad tracks for the old Boston & Maine RR were between the picnic table and the station. It’s a remarkable preserved building including the telegrapher’s desk! The snow was deep! It was almost up to the heght of the table bench seats. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

“Listen, I’ll get on your shoulders and I can reach it using the shovel.”

Jim Cluett, W1PID, was serious. But keep in mind he’s 71 and I’m a spry 65 years of age and there were at least 12 inches of snow on the ground.

No, we weren’t reenacting a segment of some old Laurel and Hardy movie, but anyone watching us might have thought so.

Jim, Dave Benson, K1SWL, and I had decided a few days earlier to take advantage of the balmy 43 F weather in central New Hampshire. The first thing to realize is temperatures like this might not be felt until the end of March so we didn’t hesitate to do our first outing of 2018.


I’m on the left, Dave Benson, K1SWL, is in the middle and my mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID is on the right. Jim loves Potter Place and visits here regularly with his wife to ride bikes along the old railroad line that’s now the delightful 60-mile-long Northern Rail Trail. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Potter Place Is Perfect

We agreed to operate at the restored Potter Place railroad station in Andover, NH. Not too many decades ago quite a few Boston and Maine steam trains would race by or stop at the station platform just a few yards from where we were set up on a picnic table.

On this day, we just had one or two snowmobiles putter by on the railroad bed that’s now the Northern Rail Trail bike and hiking path stretching from Franklin NH to Lebanon, NH.

Potter Place is a great halfway point for Jim and me to meet Dave as he lives west of Andover and Jim and I live east.

The Errant Water Bottle

Jim decided to set up on a box under the roof overhang of the station. Dave and I chose to use a picnic table Dave had cleared of ice and snow the day before as he happened to drive by Potter Place.

It’s important to realize it was my job to deploy my 29-foot vertical wire antenna attached to a 9:1 unun and a 15-foot counterpoise wire. I got out my bright green halyard line, spread it out and tied it to my handy 8-ounce water bottle. Rotating it with my arm I made a perfect launch up into a bare oak tree. The bottle soared up about 45 feet and I expected it to fall to the ground as it always does.


You can see me starting to swing my rock-filled water bottle. I’ve spied the perfect branch and this should be a routine halyard deployment. Rarely do I have an issue. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

It didn’t. Somehow the line got snagged on some tree wart on a branch. Jim had taught me years ago to tug gently on the line to try to get the bottle to overcome the resistance.

It didn’t work. I got frustrated and started pulling hard on the polyester cord, the bottle jammed in a notch about 35 feet up in the tree and the cord broke.

Damn it! I hate losing water bottles.

The same thing happened to me at my own house back in October as I was relocating my shack dipole antenna. That’s a story for another day.

Dave got out his padlock and parachute cord and moments later the antenna was up, but I wasn’t a happy camper.

Gravity Works

We decided to use my Elecraft KX2 and within a few minutes, we were on the air. Jim had already scored at least two QSOs as I struggled with the antenna setup.

elecraft kx2

Here’s the radio setup. It’s an Elecraft KX2 powered today with a BioennoPower 3 Ahr LiFePhos battery. I store everything in the orange Pelican 1200 case. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

After a few minutes, Dave said, “Hey look, the water bottle’s almost down!”

I couldn’t believe it and rotated my head to see the rock-filled bottle about 12 feet up in the air!

Dave had a round-point shovel in his truck and the game was on.

Jim came over from the train station and started to toss the shovel up at the bottle hoping to coax it down the rest of the way.

His throws didn’t work and I tried to do the same with hapless results.

The Plan

“Listen, if I get up on your shoulders that will give me enough height to swat at the bottle,” mused Jim.

I thought, “Hmm. I think I can support his weight in this snow. I want the bottle back. Let’s go for it.”

Moments later Jim climbed up onto the picnic table and a moment later he was balanced on my shoulders. I only did this because if I dropped him, we’d both fall in the soft 12-inch snow cover.


Jim is about to grasp the shovel out of the snow to bat at the water bottle. We were crazy to do this for a $3 water bottle. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

The bottle was dangling about ten feet away from the table and I made my way over there. Jim was bobbing back and forth on my back as his outstretched arm with the shovel in it tried to hook the bottle so he could pull it down.

It didn’t work and I was rapidly running out of muscle power to continue to hold Jim up. I kneeled down and no one got hurt, including the water bottle.

The Garbage Can

“Listen, let’s stand on the garbage can that’s over at the station. Surely that will give us enough height.” Jim always has good ideas.

He went over, pulled out the plastic liner and brought the heavy can to the bottle retrieval area.

All the while Dave was just immersed in watching us bumble about trying to snare a $3 water bottle. No doubt he was laughing, but being the polite soul he is, he kept his thoughts to himself.

Jim clambered up onto the can first and had no luck. I got on and within a few moments was able to swat it with enough strength to bring it down out of the tree.


After the celebration ended I finally got on the air and made three QSOs, two of them DX.

Tim Carter W3ATB

Here I am spinning the VFO dial on the Elecraft KX2 trying to find a strong signal. This photo was shot by Dave Benson, K1SWL. I’ve notified him that there’s a defect in the camera that seems to create round fleshy-colored spots in the photos. I didn’t have time to photoshop this image to produce a true representation of what the camera saw. (cough, cough) Copyright 2018 Tim Carter


Here are my three contacts.

F5NTV 1905Z 599 10.111 Mhz
S57V 1907Z 579 10.117 Mhz
N2CX 1909Z 579 10.116 Mhz

Dave and I shared the KX2 and had great success on 30 meters.

Just before packing up we were very lucky to hear Joe Everhart, N2CX, who was outdoors as well in New Jersey doing a Parks on the Air activation.

All three of us each had a short Morse code conversation with Joe exchanging signal reports and pleasantries. 

We were all in a great mood and the outing was far better than any had guessed it might be. I feel we would have been happy having just two contacts each and not getting back in the car and truck frostbitten.

I never was cold at all and am blessed that I can still continue to learn more about outdoor radio and QRP from the two legends that allow me to tag along.

Words of Wisdom From Jim Cluett

Driving home Jim said, “Water bottles are like old friends. They’ve worked hard for you on past outings and it’s hard to leave them alone stranded up in trees.”

Truer words have never been spoken. I’m glad my water bottle is safely in my backpack waiting for the next outing!

Pemigewasset River and Profile Falls Outdoor Radio

text message

Jim Cluett, W1PID (messages in green) wanted to go to the Pemigewasset River just east of Profile Falls on this late winter day. The temperature was already above 40 F, so it shouldn’t be too bad. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Just as I was getting ready to move two water softener drain lines, I got a text message from my friend Jim Cluett, W1PID.

The plan was to set up along the shore of the Pemigewasset River just east of Profile Falls. Profile Falls is one of New Hampshire’s many dramatic waterfalls and is located about two miles south of Bristol, NH.

The weather was warm for this time of year in central New Hampshire. It was above 40 F by mid-morning when Jim texted me.

The Icy Trail to the Pemigewasset River

Late February in central New Hampshire can be icy. Daytime thawing freezes at night. Add to that we were going to a Corps of Engineers flood control basin where January flooding created massive sheets of ice we needed to navigate to get to the river.

river flood ice

Hundreds of acres of land next to the river had flooded seven weeks ago during bitter cold WX (weather). While the water as still at flood stage it froze. The fractured ice you see is about six inches thick. When the liquid water under the ice receded, the ice sheets collapsed down to the soil, but there are many places where there are voids. You can see all the footprints in the snow on the trail. That’s a woman dressed in orange walking her dog. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

The Towering Pine Tree

A towering majestic pine tree that’s at the top of the riverbank is about 1/3 of a mile from the parking lot. Jim and I were headed there to sit at picnic tables. The trail is very level, but had a layer of soft snow covering the ice that was suspended 16 inches or more in places above the frozen soil.

W1PID Jim Cluett

This friendly pine tree loves to help us harvest QSOs (QSO = a conversation with another radio operator) out of the ether. It’s hard to get a halyard line tangled in this tree. Jim is being careful on the slippery trail. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

I didn’t waste any time getting my antenna into the huge pine tree. On my first throw, my water bottle soared over a branch about 40 feet in the air and dropped down perfectly straight just 7 feet from the corner of the picnic table.

In minutes I was on the air while Jim was playing patty-cake with his complex antenna, a design developed by W3EDP.

“What’s he doing? For goodness sake, I’ll have my first QSO before he even gets his radio out! This will be a first. He’s ALWAYS beat me in the past getting set up and making a Q (a singular QSO).”

That’s the thought that popped into my head as I was turning on my radio all while Jim was mumbling and cursing as he walked back and forth and back and forth across the ice between two trees.

W1PID Jim Cluett

Minutes after this photo was shot, Jim would be staring up into the branches contemplating how he was going to get a wire up, down and sideways in all these branches. You can see the glare ice he had to deal with. I’m sure that slowed him down. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Sure enough, my first QSO happened within three minutes of getting on the air. It was a DX (international) contact with Bruno, F5NTV in France. Thousands of operators in the Midwest and Western USA are jealous of us because we can get international (DX) contacts as easy as we work those west of us across the fruited plain of the USA.

Jim’s worked Bruno many times before, but he wouldn’t today.

W3ATB Tim Carter

Here I am happy as a clam after my QSO with F5NTV. I’m keeping my hands warm with my Morse muff made by Ms. Margaret Lohmann, one of my AsktheBuilder.com newsletter subscribers. My head is warm with my SOTA (Summits on the Air) hat. It’s amazing Jim had the composure to take this photo after futzing around for fifteen minutes with his antenna. Copyright 2018 Jim “Grumpy” Cluett

The Howling Wind By the Pemigewasset River

Walking to the river the air was calm, we were both warm and it was delightful. But once I started to set up on the one table, I noticed the wind.

It was gusting and biting. When the WX starts to get your attention, it’s never a good thing. At one point a gust blew my Rite-in-the-Rain log book and launched my pen into the mud.

Within 30 minutes Jim and I were packing up to walk back to his car. My hands got cold because I had to take them out of my wool Morse muff to spin the VFO dial and write in my log book. Jim complained that everything on him was cold.

I made three QSOs in just under twenty-five minutes and was thrilled. Here’s my log for the outing:

F5NTV 579 1803Z 10.110Mhz (megahertz)
KB4GY 579 1815Z 7.041 Mhz
N1KW 579 1825Z 10.121 Mhz
pemigewasset river

Here’s the mighty Pemigewasset River as it flows next to us when we come to this peaceful place. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Even though we were chilled, Jim and I agreed it was great to get out. The weather forecast for the next two weeks is promising. Let’s hope for some sunlight next time!